Ray Kroc

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Ray Kroc
Ray kroc 1976.jpg
Kroc in 1976
Raymond Albert Kroc

(1902-10-05)October 5, 1902
DiedJanuary 14, 1984(1984-01-14) (aged 81)
Resting placeEl Camino Memorial Park
San Diego, California, United States
OccupationBusinessman; franchisor
Years active1954–1984
Known forPurchasing, popularizing and “founding” McDonald's
Net worth$600 million (1984)
Political partyRepublican
Ethel Fleming
(m. 1922; div. 1961)

Jane Dobbins Green
(m. 1963; div. 1968)

Joan Kroc (m. 1969)
ChildrenMarilyn Kroc Barg (1924–1973)

Raymond Albert "Ray" Kroc (October 5, 1902 – January 14, 1984) was an American businessman.[4][5] He joined the California company McDonald's in 1954, just a few months after the McDonald brothers had branched out from their original 1940 operation in San Bernardino, with Kroc turning the chain into a nationwide and eventually global franchise, making it the most successful fast food corporation in the world. Controversially, Kroc would present himself as the founder of McDonald's during his later life.[6] Kroc was included in Time 100: The Most Important People of the Century, and amassed a fortune during his lifetime. He owned the San Diego Padres baseball team from 1974 until his death in 1984.

Early life[edit]

Kroc was born on October 5, 1902 in Oak Park, Illinois, near Chicago, to parents of Czech origin, Rose Mary (née Hrach) and Alois "Louis" Kroc.[7] His father was from the village of Břasy near Plzeň, Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). Kroc's father had made a fortune speculating on land during the 1920s, only to lose everything with the stock market crash in 1929.[8]

Ray Kroc grew up and spent most of his life in Oak Park. During World War I, he lied about his age and became a Red Cross ambulance driver at the age of 15. In Kroc's Red Cross company, which assembled in Connecticut for training, there was another boy who lied about his age to get in; his name was Walt Disney.[9] The war, however, ended shortly after he enlisted. During the Great Depression, Kroc worked a variety of jobs selling paper cups, as a real estate agent in Florida, and sometimes playing piano in bands.[10]

Purchasing McDonald's[edit]

Ray Kroc's first (McDonald's ninth) restaurant, which opened April 1955 in Des Plaines, Illinois, USA

After World War II, Kroc found employment as a milkshake mixer salesman for the foodservice equipment manufacturer Prince Castle.[11] When Prince Castle Multi-Mixer sales plummeted because of competition from lower-priced Hamilton Beach products, Kroc was impressed by Richard and Maurice McDonald who had purchased eight of his Multi-Mixers for their San Bernardino, California restaurant, and visited them in 1954. Kroc became convinced that the concept and design of this small chain had the potential to expand across the nation.[citation needed]

Having been in approximately one thousand kitchens, Kroc believed the McDonald brothers had the best-run operation he had ever seen. The restaurant was clean, modern, mechanized, and the staff professional and well-groomed. Roadside hamburger restaurants were more often than not hangouts for motorcycle gangs and rebellious teenagers, and Kroc saw in McDonald's a better vision for a restaurant. He once said "In my experience, hamburger joints are nothing but jukeboxes, pay phones, smoking rooms, and guys in leather jackets. I wouldn't take my wife to such a place and you wouldn't take your wife either."[citation needed]

In 1955, Kroc opened the first McDonald's franchised under his partnership with the McDonald brothers in Des Plaines, Illinois. The restaurant was demolished in 1984. Recognizing its historic and nostalgic value, in 1990 the McDonald's Corporation acquired the stand and rehabilitated it to a modern but nearly original condition, and then built an adjacent museum and gift shop to commemorate the site now called McDonald's #1 Store Museum.

After finalizing the franchise agreement with the McDonald brothers, Kroc sent a letter to Walt Disney. They had met as ambulance attendant trainees at Sound Beach, Connecticut during World War I. Kroc wrote, "I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald's system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald's in your Disney Development". According to one account, Disney agreed under stipulation to increase fries from ten cents to fifteen cents, allowing himself the profit. Kroc refused to gouge his loyal customers, leaving Disneyland to open without a McDonald's restaurant. Journalist Eric Schlosser, writing in his book Fast Food Nation, believes that this is a doctored retelling of the transaction by some McDonald's marketing executives. Most probably, the proposal was returned without approval.[12]

Kroc has been credited with making a number of innovative changes in the food-service franchise model. Chief among them was the sale of only single-store franchises instead of selling larger, territorial franchises which was common in the industry at the time. Kroc recognized that the sale of exclusive licenses for large markets was the quickest way for a franchisor to make money, but he also saw in the practice a loss in the franchisor's ability to exert control over the course and direction of a chain’s development. Above all else, and in keeping with contractual obligations with the McDonald brothers, Kroc wanted uniformity in service and quality among all of the McDonald’s locations. Without the ability to influence franchisees, Kroc knew that it would be difficult to achieve that goal. By granting a franchisee the right to only one store location at a time, Kroc retained for the franchise some measure of control over the franchisee (or at least those desiring to someday own the rights to another store).[13]

Kroc's policies for McDonald's included establishing locations only in suburban areas, not in downtowns since poor people might eat in them after the main business hours were over. Restaurants were to be kept properly sanitized at all times, and the staff must be clean, properly groomed and polite to children. The food was to be of a strictly fixed, standardized content and restaurants were not allowed to deviate from specifications in any way. There was to be no waste of anything, Kroc insisted; every condiment container was to be scraped completely clean. No cigarette machines or pinball games were allowed in any McDonald's.

Kroc had difficulty in enforcing his strict policies in the beginning as several California franchisees began offering things that were not supposed to be on the menu, altering prices, the recipes, or committing various other offenses. For a time, Kroc held off on licensing more McDonald's in California, preferring to concentrate on the Midwest, where he believed people were more conservative and less likely to challenge authority.[citation needed]

Kroc had a contemptuous opinion of MBAs and people who attended business school or obtained college degrees in management, believing they lacked competitive drive or market savvy. For a time, McDonald's had a policy of not hiring MBAs. He also forbade McDonald's executives to have secretaries and required them to answer their own phones. They were expected to follow dress and grooming rules similar to those of rank-and-file employees in the restaurants, which included no scruffy beards (though carefully groomed facial hair was allowed), and they received regular company pamphlets extolling thriftiness and financial responsibility both at the company and in their personal lives.[citation needed]

During the 1960s, a wave of new fast food chains appeared that copied McDonald's model, including Burger King, Burger Chef, Arbys, KFC, and Hardee's. Kroc spoke of the competition with contempt, saying that they did not offer the same quality of food, service, affordable prices, or sanitation as McDonald does. He resisted joining any fast food trade organizations for fear of giving away his business secrets.[citation needed]

Kroc became frustrated with the McDonald brothers' desire to maintain a small number of restaurants. The brothers also consistently told Kroc he could not make changes to things such as the original blueprint (building codes were different in Illinois than in California), but despite Kroc's pleas, the brothers never sent any formal letters that legally allowed the changes in the chain. In 1961, he bought the company for $2.7 million, calculated so as to ensure each brother $1 million after taxes. Obtaining the funds for the buyout was difficult due to existing debt from expansion. However, Harry Sonneborn, whom Kroc referred to as his "financial wizard", was able to raise the required funds.[citation needed]

At the closing table, Kroc became annoyed that the brothers would not transfer to him the real estate and rights to the original San Bernardino location. The brothers had told Kroc they were giving the operation, property and all, to the founding employees. In his anger, Kroc later opened a new McDonald's restaurant near the original McDonald's, which had been renamed "The Big M" because the brothers had neglected to retain rights to the name. "The Big M" closed six years later.[14] It is alleged that as part of the buyout Kroc promised, based on a handshake agreement, to continue the annual 0.5% royalty of the original agreement, but there is no evidence of this beyond a claim by a nephew of the McDonald brothers. Neither of the brothers publicly expressed disappointment over the deal. Speaking to someone about the buyout, Richard McDonald reportedly said that he had no regrets.[15]

Kroc maintained the assembly line "Speedee Service System" for hamburger preparation that was introduced by the McDonald brothers in 1948. He standardized operations, ensuring every burger would taste the same in every restaurant. He set strict rules for franchisees on how the food was to be made, portion sizes, cooking methods and times, and packaging. Kroc also rejected cost-cutting measures like using soybean filler in the hamburger patties. These strict rules also were applied to customer service standards with such mandates that money be refunded to clients whose orders were not correct or to customers who had to wait more than five minutes for their food.

By the time of Kroc's death, the chain had 7,500 outlets in the United States and 31 other countries and territories. The total system-wide sales of its restaurants were more than $8 billion in 1983, and his personal fortune amounted to some $600 million.[4]


Kroc retired from running McDonald's in 1974. While he was looking for new challenges, he decided to get back into baseball, his lifelong favorite sport, when he learned that the San Diego Padres were for sale. The team had been conditionally sold to Joseph Danzansky, a Washington, D.C. grocery-chain owner, who planned to move the Padres to Washington.[16] However, the sale was tied up in lawsuits when Kroc purchased the team for $12 million, keeping the team in San Diego.[17][18] In Kroc's first year of ownership in 1974, the Padres lost 102 games, yet drew over one million in attendance, the standard of box office success in the major leagues during that era. Their previous top attendance was 644,772 in 1972.[17] The San Diego Union said Kroc was "above all, a fan of his team".[18] On April 9, 1974, while the Padres were on the brink of losing a 9–5 decision to the Houston Astros in the season opener at San Diego Stadium, Kroc took the public address microphone in front of 39,083 fans. "I’ve never seen such stupid ballplaying in my life," he said. The crowd cheered in approval.[18][19] In 1979, Kroc's public interest in future free agent players Graig Nettles and Joe Morgan drew a $100,000 fine from Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Frustrated with the team, he handed over operations of the team to his son-in-law, Ballard Smith. "There's more future in hamburgers than baseball," Kroc said.[20]

After his death, the Padres in 1984 wore a special patch with Kroc's initials, RAK.[21] They won the NL pennant that year and played in the 1984 World Series. Kroc was inducted posthumously as part of the inaugural class of the San Diego Padres Hall of Fame in 1999.[22]

Personal life[edit]

The Kroc Foundation supported research, treatment and education about various medical conditions, such as alcoholism, diabetes, arthritis and multiple sclerosis. It is best known for establishing the Ronald McDonald House, a nonprofit organization that provides free housing for parents close to medical facilities where their children are receiving treatment.[23][4]

A lifelong Republican, Kroc believed firmly in self-reliance and staunchly opposed government welfare and the New Deal. He generated significant controversy for donating $255,000 to Richard Nixon's reelection campaign in 1972, and was accused by some, notably Senator Harrison Williams, of making the donation to influence Nixon to veto a minimum wage bill making its way through Congress.[24]

In 1980, following a stroke, Kroc entered an alcohol rehabilitation facility.[25] He died four years later of heart failure at a hospital in San Diego, California, on January 14, 1984, at the age of 81,[4] and was buried at the El Camino Memorial Park in Sorrento Valley, San Diego.[8]

Kroc's first two marriages to Ethel Fleming (1922–1961) and Jane Dobbins Green (1963–1968) ended in divorce. His third wife, Joan Kroc, was a philanthropist who significantly increased her charitable contributions after Kroc's death. She donated to a variety of causes that interested her, such as the promotion of peace and nuclear nonproliferation.[23] Upon her death in 2003, her remaining $2.7 billion estate was distributed among a number of nonprofit organizations, including $1.5 billion donation to The Salvation Army to build 26 Kroc Centers, community centers serving underserved neighborhoods, throughout the country.[26][2][27]

In popular culture[edit]

Kroc's acquisition of the McDonald's franchise as well as his "Kroc-style" business tactics are the subject of Mark Knopfler's 2004 song "Boom, Like That".[28][29]

Kroc co-authored the book Grinding It Out released in 1977 and re-released in 2016; it served as the basis for a biographical movie about Kroc.[30]

Kroc is portrayed by Michael Keaton in the 2016 John Lee Hancock film The Founder. The movie depicts Kroc's franchise development, nationwide expansion, and ultimate acquisition of McDonald's, while being critical of his treatment of the founding McDonald's brothers.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ray Kroc". Newsmakers (Fee, via Fairfax County Public Library). Biography In Context. Detroit Michigan: Gale. 1985. Gale Document Number: GALE|K1618001946. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
  2. ^ a b Cicarelli, James (2003). "Ray Kroc". In Arnold Markoe and Kenneth T. Jackson. Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Thematic Series: Sports Figures (Fee, via Fairfax County Public Library). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Retrieved June 12, 2011. Gale Biography In Context.
  3. ^ Anderson, Robert (March 2009). "Ray Kroc How He Made McDonald's Sizzle". Success. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 13, 2011. (excerpt from September 1977 article)
  4. ^ a b c d Pace Eric (January 15, 1984). "Ray A. Kroc dies at 81. Built McDonald's Chain". The New York Times. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
  5. ^ "The Mc Donald's Man: What Ray Kroc Hath Wrought Around the World". People. May 19, 1975
  6. ^ [1]New Statesman Food & Drink 17 February 2017
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ a b Lisa Napoli (2016). Ray and Joan: The Man Who Made the Mcdonald's Fortune and the Woman Who Gave It All Away. p. 28.
  9. ^ Anderson, Ray Kroc ; with Robert (1987). Grinding it out : the making of McDonald's (St. Martin's paperback ed.). [New York]: St. Martin's Paperbacks. p. 19. ISBN 0312929870.
  10. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. (October 1, 2008). Britannica Guide to 100 Most Influential Americans. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. pp. 342–. ISBN 978-1-59339-857-6.
  11. ^ Neil Snyder (June 15, 2010). Vision, Values, and Courage: Leadership for Quality Management. Simon and Schuster. pp. 133–. ISBN 978-1-4516-0252-4.
  12. ^ Schlosser, Eric (2002). Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 978-0-395-97789-7.
  13. ^ Love, John (1995). McDonald's: Behind The Arches. New York: Bantam Books. pp. 57–60. ISBN 0-553-34759-4.
  14. ^ Kroc (1977). Grinding It Out. p. 123.
  15. ^ Gilpin, Kenneth N. (1998-07-16). "Richard McDonald, 89, Fast-Food Revolutionary". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-10-21.
  16. ^ Chandler, Bob (2006). Bob Chandler's Tales from the San Diego Padres. Champaign, IL: Sports Pub. p. 71. ISBN 9781596700246. Retrieved February 10, 2015.
  17. ^ a b Chandler 2006, p. 73.
  18. ^ a b c Lockwood, Wayne (October 2, 1984). "Ray Kroc's dream finally materializes". The San Diego Union. p. Baseball-12.
  19. ^ Chandler 2006, pp. 74–76.
  20. ^ Bock, Hal (August 27, 1979). "Miller Presaged Kroc Escapade". Lawrence Journal-World. Associated Press. p. 14. Retrieved February 10, 2015.
  21. ^ "Ray Kroc, San Diego Padres Owner and Man who Built McDonald's". Misc. Baseball.
  22. ^ "Padres Hall of Fame". padres.mlb.com. Archived from the original on September 6, 2014.
  23. ^ a b Pompilio, Natalie (12 October 2013). "Joan Kroc, Unconventional Philanthropist". Legacy.com. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  24. ^ Novak, Ralph (19 May 1975). "The McDonald's Man: What Ray Kroc Hath Wrought Around the World". People. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  25. ^ Harris, Scott. "Dismayed by Nuclear Arms Race : McDonald's Fortune Fuels Joan Kroc's Peace Effort". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 24, 2017.
  26. ^ Sullivan, Paul (20 January 2017). "Kroc's Giving, Like McDonald's Meals, Was Fast and Super-Sized". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  27. ^ "Ray Kroc". nndb.com. Retrieved October 12, 2008.
  28. ^ The Bulletin. J. Haynes and J.F. Archibald. 2004.
  29. ^ Franchise Times. Restaurant Finance Corporation. 2005.
  30. ^ Taunton, Paul (11 August 2016). "Head honcho Ray Kroc was a bully, and other things we learned from Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald's". National Post.
  31. ^ Lapin, Andrew. "'The Founder': Michael Keaton Brings A Ruthless Ray Kroc To Life, With Relish". NPR. Retrieved January 25, 2017.

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